Purpose: The aim of the paper is to investigate the architectural firm's role in the briefing process on international projects and to identify the strategies of successful firms to overcome barriers. Design/methodology/approach: A model is developed based on a critique of briefing models and international design management theory. The development of a reflexive capability model borrows cultural theory concepts of capital and reflexivity. The model is based on maximizing reflexive capability through the management of social, cultural and intellectual capital. Two case studies of architectural firms identify barriers during the briefing process and strategies to overcome these barriers. Data collection involved 16 interviews with senior management and design team staff. Findings: There are various barriers and strategies used to achieve success in the briefing process. However, the management of a firm's capital is key to successful briefing on international projects and is a characteristic of reflexive practice. Reflexivity is based in a positive interpretation of change, and a continual responsiveness to change by participants in a system. The study provides useful information on management of the design and briefing stages of international projects. Research limitations/implications: The study is limited by the number of case studies used and the difficulty of generalisability of findings. Practical implications: The research is that it provides useful information about how to approach constant change during briefing for the architects and clients who work on international projects. Originality/value: The model is original and has value as it assists in explaining why some firms are more successful than others. The case studies provide new knowledge on international projects and the briefing process. The value of the paper is for the academic community, professionals in the built environment and clients involved in international projects.